Sermon: The Rev. DCN. Donna Lockhart
Sermon: The Eleventh Sunday After pentecost
God liberates and sets us free from that which binds us
Last week we heard Jesus tell us that he came, not to bring peace on earth, but rather division. Today’s Gospel lesson does not disappoint! As Bible scholar Brian Stoffregen points out, the healing that Jesus performs in today’s reading is the third of four miracle, conflict stories about healing on the Sabbath found in Luke.
Today’s passage speaks about a woman bound and held captive by a spirit that imprisoned her for 18 years. A daughter of Abraham, as Jesus describes her, whom Satan bound for eighteen long years. As we read, Jesus releases this woman from the spirit of evil that binds her and then is immediately chastised for healing on the sabbath by the synagogue leader for doing this; but why? What about Jesus releasing this woman from bondage threatens this leader? What is he afraid of?
Is the leader truly offended because Jesus healed on the sabbath, and this goes against the law and his religious authority? And is he truly unable to see the miracle of healing that Jesus freely offers to all people? Let’s say the leader is so caught up in the laws that govern the sabbath that he is unable to see the goodness of the Lord and the miraculous healing that unfolded right in front of his eyes. Then, does this not make the leader just as shackled as the woman Jesus set free? Yes, I believe it does.
But what if when the leader, upon witnessing the power of Jesus unfolding in front of him is suddenly struck by the reality of who Jesus is and what Jesus’ ministry and mission is all about? What if on some level the leader is starting to realize that the Spirit of the Lord truly is upon this man called Jesus? What if this leader was in Nazareth when Jesus read from the sacred scroll saying,
“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor.He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind,to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
Did this leader hear Jesus say to the people after rolling up the scroll, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”
And if this religious elite leader and his posse are beginning to awaken to who Jesus truly is; what is holding them back from coming onboard to the good news of healing taking place everywhere Jesus goes? What is keeping them from truly embracing the good news that Jesus is spreading? Is their illusion of control being challenged? Is this leader being held captive by fear as the woman Jesus set free? What is binding this leader to a spirit of hate and division instead of love and healing?
They are clearly reacting to the fulfillment of scripture, even if they can’t see it; reacting to Jesus setting free, lifting up, healing, and embracing the totality of the human race and all that ails us. And as Jesus does this, and they see the rejoicing crowds and followers that Jesus has gathered along the way, they also see change coming, and this change frightens them. In a way, I feel sorrier for the religious elite in this story than I do for the daughter of Abraham having been bound by Satan for eighteen long years, for they don’t recognize what is right in front of them?
I believe one reason why the religious elite are unable to embrace the good news is because of fear; fear of losing control, fear of their world changing too much and at a pace they can’t possibly keep up with, and fear of an uncertain future, just to name a few. If Jesus continues to free the oppressed, set the prisoners free, heal the sick, cure the blind, what does this mean for the authority of the religious elite of the day?
When I place myself in the shoes of the demon possessed woman, it is easy for me to rejoice with her, to praise God and to embrace the good news. God after all, through the work of Jesus Christ, set this woman free from the bond of evil that was her life for eighteen long years. I have experienced the healing grace of God and praise God, rejoicing just like this daughter of Abraham, for setting me free from the bonds of evil that at times have encompassed my life.
But sadly, when I place myself in the shoes of the religious elite, it is also easy for me to see myself as being just as fearful. I can name countless times I have walked in this leaders’ shoes, fearful of losing control. Fearful of facing an uncertain future. Fearful that God is not working all things to my good. Fearful that I made the wrong choice. Just plain fearful.
At one point, not so long ago, the fear of my uncertain future and placement within the Church became so overwhelming that one morning I woke up and realized that not only had I lost my ability to trust that God was working all things to my good, but I had also lost my trust and faith in God completely. It was on January 19th of this year that I woke up to this realization and cried out in a loud voice, “Oh my God, I don’t trust you.” Having just been ordained a transitional deacon a month earlier, and scheduled for priestly ordination in just a few months, this realization brought me to my knees.
How could I possibly move forward in a priestly ministry if I didn’t trust God? And worse what did this mean of the vows I had already taken? To make a long story short, I spent the next several months in deep prayer and consultation. I questioned why I couldn’t take that final leap of faith, releasing myself completely to the care of God. And then I realized that there is never one final leap of faith, but a continuous, and sometimes exhausting, ongoing leap of faith into the arms of God.
This experience stays with me to this very day and lingers just close enough to the surface to remind me of how awful and how lonely that time was. In all honesty, there are days that I turn to God as I remember this time that felt like complete separation from God, and all I can get out is a meager part of the Jesus Prayer repeating the mantra of – “Jesus have mercy,” as opposed to the full prayer of “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.” And indeed, my friends, Jesus does have mercy and as sure as Jesus showed this mercy to the daughter of Abraham by setting her free, Jesus also has mercy on us.
And this is the good news that I pray you hear from this Gospel; the news that Jesus does save, and in his mercy, is waiting to set us all free from that which binds us. The challenge of this good news however is that just as in the time of this Gospel, there are people who are threatened by the followers of Jesus because the reality of losing their control draws nearer; just as the religious leader in today’s story grew threatened with every act of healing Jesus performed and every person Jesus set free, there are those today who feel threatened in losing their control over society and because of this, they impose laws that continue to oppress, dehumanize, and further abuse and traumatize those already living on the margin.
As Christians we are called to live into the healing grace of our Lord and Savior. Just like the disabled daughter of Abraham was set free of her bondage, so too are people across this nation being set free. These freed people are rising up, standing as straight as the daughter of Abraham did, and praising God for their eyes being open to the truth and reality of the Gospel by fighting to end the systems of oppression that threaten our siblings, our livelihoods, and our freedom to be all that God has called us to be.
Following Jesus is not easy. If we’re Christian and comfortable, we’re doing something wrong. Letting go from that which binds us and holds us back from being all who we are meant to be, is hard work. Standing strong in the face of racism, social injustice, structural oppression, fighting for the right to choose, fighting for environmental justice, for the healing of our earthly home, standing strong in the face of a capitalistic, individualistic, and patriarchal society that values the almighty dollar over human life, is hard work.
We know that fear is insidious. It lurks around every corner waiting to pounce. But what is stronger than any human fear is the love of God. By fully living into God’s love and by fully living into loving our neighbors as ourselves, we join in God’s transformational love as we join hands as followers of Jesus and continue his earthly mission.
What is stronger than any of our individual fears is coming together as a community of faith to share our love, our hopes, our dreams, and yes also our fears. For when we share what frightens us, when we bring it into the open, it no longer holds the power over us it once did. We then open the door for Jesus to set us free and to stand as straight as the woman in today’s Gospel. This is what being in community through faith is all about, and we are always stronger together.
Here at St. Patrick’s, we all know what this kind of sharing means. We share on a weekly basis our holy moments. Over the past three months I have had the great privilege of listening to these holy moments as you have openly shared your joys, your fears, and your hopes, all of which are centered in the healing power of God. It is this sense of community that binds and unites us and leads us towards living fully into our faith as followers of Jesus and the healing grace of God. So, I invite us all to take the Spirit of God’s love that has been carefully nurtured and grown so beautifully in this faith community and continue to spread it far and wide, wherever we go; standing as straight as the daughter of Abraham all the while rejoicing and praising God.